wahlberg muscle

How to Build More Muscle After You Hit 40

How to Build Muscle After 40

Building muscle ISN’T a young man’s game. What I mean by that is… our teens – or even in some cases our early twenties – ISN’T the easiest time to build muscle, for a number of reasons.

For one, our metabolism is too fast, and two we’re much more active. Our lives are consumed by sports and chasing girls (sometimes literally chasing girls). We burn more calories on a daily basis partially because we’re much more active when we’re in school, but also because our metabolisms are as high as they’ll ever be. While we may want it more, we’re too stubborn to slow down, recover, and train in a way that’ll get us the muscle we want.

As we get older gaining mass gets easier – whether that mass is muscle or fat is completely up to you. When I run into guys I went to high school with, they’re all bigger than they were in high school or college. The vast majority are fatter, too – I’d say 95%. This is because their schedules and their metabolisms have slowed. They have more stress now than they did in college, and more things pulling them away from the gym, and pulling them towards a Twinkie or a burger. I find it much easier to gain mass today than I did in college for those same reasons, I’ve just chosen to have that mass remain lean.

The obstacles we run into as we age regard our priorities and our hormones. We have the capacity to gain mass, we just don’t have the time, the discipline, or the desire we once had. I mean, why gain muscle mass when we’re already married, have kids, and we know that the bodybuilder look is far from a desireable physique? So we focus on fat loss and cardio rather than lifting heavy weights, and we see in increase in skinny fat men in their late 30’s and 40’s.

Why You Should Lift Weights As You Age

Men are warriors. For thousands of years we’ve been maintaining a certain physical condition. We were hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. We’ve been lazy and fat for decades – maybe hundreds of years. Being in great physical condition is in our DNA. We were warriors facing death in hand-to-hand combat long before we ever had the opportunity to sit on our asses and watch TV.

Men are supposed to be in great shape. A man is a warrior. Apart from that, doing some form of resistence training will serve as a fountain of youth of sorts. It keeps us strong, and our bodies young. Lifting weights helps us burn fat, lower fat levels correlate to higher testosterone levels. Resistance training also correlates to more energy and a greater quality of life. We’re more vibrant, healthy, and active when we’re, well, active.

How to Gain Lean Muscle After 40

As we age, the trick starts to be lean mass, not just mass gains. The following tricks will help you in your fight to gain lean muscle  after as you enter your 40’s.

1. Start with the diet.

Focus the majority of your carbohydrates before and after your workout. This will help keep your gains lean. But make sure you’re eating enough as well. You can’t gain muscle if you’re not eating enough food.

Diet will also effect you hormonally. Men need testosterone for a host of reasons, one of them being the fact that healthy T levels help us build lean muscle.  Read “How to Naturally Raise Testosterone in Men” to learn how to elevate your T levels in a natural, healthy manner.

Enjoy life, but do it in moderation. I drink a alcohol, and I’m not willing to cut it out of my life. I am willing to consume it in moderation. This means no more than 3 glass at any time. It usually means having wine over beer – although when I have beer I keep it to a max of two a day. Beer is not only estrogenous (raises estrogen in men), but packed full of empty calories that will turn to fat and take away from our lean gains.

2. Train on the weekends or at lunch.

Yes, the weekends are your time to unwind, take your kids to their sports, and watch football. It’s also the best time to train for busy, family men. You’re guaranteed to get a workout in if you plan it right. Lift first thing in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. Your workouts don’t need to be longer than 45-minutes. Have your training week start on Saturday rather than everyone else’s start of Monday.

The two other workouts need to be planned and set in stone. Time is one of the biggest obstacles to guys with families and careers. So know when you’re going to have time. That might mean lifting at lunch, in the morning before work, or immediately after work (never go home after work, always go straight to the gym). It all depends on your schedule, but it needs to be set in stone every week. These aren’t flexible workout days. They happen rain or shine, deadline at work to reach or not. Train, and train hard.

3. Don’t lift your age.

When I head to a gym and see a guy in his 40’s training, he’s usually doing an older guy’s workout. He’s lifting light weights, not really pushing himself to train harder or lift more. He’s also usually ending his workout – or starting it – on the treadmill.


Train like you did when you were 25. Lift hard and train with a focus on improving every time you’re in the gym. I do see guys in their 40’s and 50’s who are in epic shape, they’re ripped and jacked. They’re also lifting harder than the young guys. What you do shouldn’t change as you age.

4. Stretch and take care of your muscles.

Injuries become a bit more frequent as we age. Make sure you take care of your shoulders, them and your elbows are the areas that’ll see the most damage – check out “Fix My Shoulder Pain” for a good program to maintain joint health. Also, make sure you stretch for 15 minutes after every workout. Young guys should do this too, but they tend to a bit more than the older guys. With age comes wisdom, but also stubbornness. Try new things to create an evolved you.

Gaining Muscle After 40

It is possible to gain muscle after the age of 40. Time is a big obstacle, but one that can defeated. Where many get into trouble is thinking that with age brings a new set of rules. The reality is, there shouldn’t be. You should still lift hard and lift heavy. Your workouts DON’T need to last longer than 40 minutes to see serious gains, especially with the slowing metabolism and increased need for recovery.

If you’re entering your late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, or even 60’s and you want to start – yes, start – building muscle, take a look at the following video. Just because you’ve been around a bit longer than the meathead’s in your gym, doesn’t mean your gains will come a different way. Hard work and intense training are still the prerequisite for muscle gains.

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  • turling

    “Have your training week start on Saturday rather than everyone else’s start of Monday.”
    Holy crap. The obvious. As always. Thanks, I’ll be starting this on the weekend.

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      haha good to hear man. I know, for some reason everyone thinks that a training week has to start on a monday.

  • Mr. T

    I’m 43 and I’ve been doing hard lifting now for about two years. I’ve seen huge gains in the lean muscle that I’ve put on. I get up early and lift before I go to work. My workout is my ‘unwinding time’. All the men that I know that are my age are universally fat. They are also universally lazy and spend all free time parked in front of the TV, playing video games or surfing the internet. I found that if i just backed away from the TV, I had TONS of time to exercise.

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      I love it man. That’s awesome to hear. TV is useless. We see TV as our unwinding time but it does nothing to replenish, it just zaps our energy and we get stooped into a brain-dead state for an hour or two. Good to hear you’re taking action. I like that you’re lifting heavy as well, too many guys your age try and lift in a way that they think suits their age (bad way of going about it).

  • Jorgen

    Hi there,
    This is a very interesting article. Well written. I really enjoyed it!

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      Thanks Jorgen! Glad you liked it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marco.denola Marco DeNola

    In reference to “Don’t Lift Your Age” I agree that older guys shouldn’t train as if they’re old but ignoring the fact that you’re no longer in your 20’s can cause major problems. At 54 I’ve finally accepted the fact that I simply cannot perform as I did in my 20’s. I believe that I can be just as strong but the condition of my joints won’t allow me to bench press 300 lbs anymore. I warm up first and lift as much as I safely can.

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      You explained the point I was attempting to make better than I did. You’re training hard, lifting heavy (as in lower reps for heavier weights). Most guys your age only lift for higher reps and they don’t truly push themselves in the gym, so you’re doing exactly what I was talking about in the article. Also, lifting heavy speaks to a lower rep count, not necessarily the weight you’re lifting – as a heavy weight is different for all of us.

  • Sunken Cheeks Lean

    Thanks for some great tips! Maybe you could advise me on my health & muscle gain strategy.

    Stress is a problem area for me, I couldn’t gain mass even when lifting heavy weights, I’ve never been fitter & leaner though. What role does cortisol play and should I invest in a cortisol blocker? I did my fair share of high intensity interval training on the stairmaster and rowing machine which could have contributed towards the lean look.

    Ten years ago I did a stint as a stevedore and I put on a lot more mass back then, probably also put my back out catching heavy boxes thrown at me from a higher point. My back had to absorb the shock from the impact.

    Pilates helped me with good form, and to safeguard my back somewhat, but my back issues – scoliosis and sacro-iliac joint dysfunction remain unresolved despite massage therapy and chiropractic manipulation, so I’m taking a break from the gym for now but hope to get back in action in the near future.

    I think my stress is compounded by my back issues. My nervous system is out of whack. I dropped a lot of weight when training but now that I’m back on the couch and eating plenty my weight remains constant. I think I may also have bacterial gastroenteritis, I’m going to see the doctor to confirm my suspicions.

    I also invested in Kre-Alkalyn Buffered Creatine when I was training and I was hoping to put it to good use before the expiration date. What is your take on this, is it worth the investment?

    By the way I’m 44 now.

    • Sunken Cheeks Lean

      My post was way too long, sorry. I can appreciate that you may not have the time to muddle through all of that.

      • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

        All good – ya a bit long, but let’s tackle cortisol.

        First, keep coffee to 3 or fewer cups.
        Take naps.
        Try and de-stress.

        But then working on improving your T levels. Higher T levels also correlate to lower cortisol levels.

  • http://www.twitter.com/shannon_s_jones Shannon Gratitude Guy Jones

    I can see this working great for the 9-5er’s who’ve put on 15-20 pounds of pudge watching Dog the Bounty Hunter and UFC. So my challenge for you Chad is getting a guy who’s 65+ pounds overweight and works a rotating shift schedule that includes 2 different day shifts ( over 6 weeks), 7 pm shifts, 7 night shifts, all crammed into 9 weeks going round and round every year. Not allowed to workout while at work even though we have an awesome gym, but when the day is done you just don’t feel like being at work anymore so going to the gym at work is like one more link in the slave chain. Plus my experience is the body does not like it when last week you were working out at 3 in the afternoon now this week you want to work out at 11 at night and next week you think you can do wha????? With three kids at home two pretending to be out on their own, a wife in college, and more often then not an extra kid in the house (granddaughter), I’m pretty F#$%ING busy. But I’m so sick of being this overweight I’m about ready to grab my K-bar and give myself a FAT-ectomy! (an angry fat joke). My biggest problem with your advice is I’m not so sure you’ve have any experience in this arena. I’m betting you’re barely over 30 if that and never even been over-FAT. So what do you bring to MY table that tells me you’re the man who’s qualified to get a 42 year old 6’4″ 292 lb. 44% body fat man down 60+ pounds and <16% body fat? By the way, I can't seem to find a BIO on you that tells me anything about who you are and what your background is, think you could fill a guy in? I'm only challenging you because a friend on mine who's certified in several different HITT style programs and a certified personal trainer had all my answers. I followed her advice to a "T" for 4 months and gained 27 lbs and 12.5" of fat. I had more stamina, but I just got fatter. Seems her diet and "cake shakes" that she had me on were kicking my calories up near 5500 a day not allowing my body to do more than take in most of what I was eating. I've tried low carb and slow carb diets they've worked for the short go, but after a few months I get fatigued, and lose mental clarity due to the ketosis. Which means no more diet, and balanced diets that restrict calories leave me hungry even when downing more than a gallon of water a day. So I'll give you two weeks to decide if you've got what it takes to turn me into a "warrior", and another week to create the plan. If your game, reply back and we can swap emails and other particulars. I want to dump the weight make the gains and be totally fit in 18 months or less. I know it should be possible as that's less than a pound a week.

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      Just seeing this now man – not sure how this slipped through without me seeing it.

      Email me here: chad@chadhowsefitness.com

      The #1 thing we need to address is your hormones. Forget about all the diet nonsense you’ve heard, it’s not a matter of cals in vs cals burned. Getting your hormones working right (Testosterone and GH), and limiting the bad ones (cortisol and estrogen), you’re going to see fat loss and muscle gains, you’re also going to have more energy – important.

      The shakes and diet she had you on are mindboggingly wrong, dangerous, stupid etc… I’m shocked.

      Email me. We’ll figure out a schedule for training (keep it minimal, quick, but focus on muscle), and a nutrition plan that will get your hormones back working right.

  • http://www.turbulencetrainingreview.org/ Marlon Donaldson

    Wow, this is truly one of best pieces I have read. I am 40 plus and I have been working out for the past 10 years. Many of the points raised are absolutely true. People need to push themselves and not set a limit on their workout just because they are older unless it is for medical reasons. Those who are willing to put in all the effort generally reap the reward of their hard work. Age is no bar

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      Well said Marlon! Thanks for commenting, appreciate the kind words.

  • Tavo

    “I feel much more strong now than in my 20s”
    -My friend Eduardo, 41 years old, lifts weights, doesn’t use steroids or other shit.

  • Bill

    I’m 41 and workout much harder than when in my 20s. A lot of that stems from reading this blog for the last 8 months or so. I took your advice about eggs and bacon- had cholesterol done recently and it was as low as its ever been. Also like your stuff about taking responsibility in life. Just completed week 4 of p90x3, you may consider that an old man’s workout but I’ve been lifting heavy for 20+ years and needed a change. I’ve definitely lost some mass in arms and chest but I now move and feel better than I have in many years. I don’t agree with everything you say (I think the ‘just suck it up’ mentality is not appropriate for many people_ I got that message a lot as a kid and it did not make me tougher or more responsible- in fact had the opposite effect). Overall – thanks so much for the posts – very helpful!

  • Randy

    I have have been training hard for the last 3 years. I am stronger now at 43 than I was in my twenties and thirties. I spend 45 minutes 3 times a week training, and it has all been worth it.

    • http://www.chadhowsefitness.com/2011/01/20-characteristics-of-a-real-man/ Chad Howse

      That’s awesome man – great to hear.

  • Marc T.MMA

    After 20 years heavy weights, my body tells me I need to change. I got back into my MMA, maintaining half the weights sessions and stopped deadlifting and squatting which my lower back could no longer tolerate. I do still lift heavy and have since incorporated Calisthenics which, in my eyes, is the older mans friend!!! I have lost muscle weight but that is expected when halving your weights. I eat 5-6 meals still, down from 6-7. I feel faster and better but don’t like the muscle loss; its not a significant amount but enough to make me tut in the mirror lol. My issue is the little bit of fat gain round the mid section, never really had to deal with it before now. I train with the same intensity, albeit slightly different training now but age does mess with the fat gain! Its just finding the method to deal with it in diet and training, fit all my training needs in and not be bolloxed everyday……..tricky. Calisthenics and HIIT may be the solution……

  • wombleranger

    I just started lifting after 15 years off and at 44 i am seeing amazing gains in endurance and strength, in fact i was never this strong in my 20’s or 30’s. I also lift very heavy and use high intensity.